I rose at five as is my custom, and left partner dozing while I went off in search of coffee. The buffet was deserted with just an elderly steward fussing over details. I got to know Papa over the next two weeks. My chats with the old-school Italian gentleman became my morning treat.
Walvis Bay Namibia
We were approaching Walvis Bay in dense fog, with the muted horn blaring every minute on our cruise from Cape Town to Southampton. The ship slowed to ten kilometres an hour as we approached a row of lighted buoys rocking gently in our swell. Sometimes we saw the ghostly shapes of ships at anchor. I found the experience surreal.
As we approached the harbour entrance, the blanket of heavy moisture was torn in two. Sunlight filtered through, and there before us were harbour cranes blinking in the morning light. The container dock was almost empty as we glided in. It had to be. Queen Mary 2 filled almost the entire length.
A single tug was in attendance but keeping distance. Our ship positioned herself, and then used bow-thrusters and swivelling propeller-pods to ease herself against the dock. Two crewmen threw tracer ropes to dockers on the quay. After they looped the hawsers around the bollards, Queen Mary’s mighty winches pulled us into position precisely opposite a white table with a bowl of red roses placed on it.
We had chosen not to take a guided tour because we knew the desert well. Instead, we disembarked after a leisurely breakfast, waved our boarding passes and wandered through the gates. No passport queue for us! The Namibians knew Queen Mary’s security was at least as good as anything they could offer.
Walvis Bay (Bay of Whales) is a sleepy little town of mainly two and three-storey buildings. Nothing much has changed since I was stationed there in 1965. The bakery where South African troops bought sausage rolls and cream éclairs still sells them from the same cabinet.
At the far end of the business district all one hundred meters distant, we looked back and realised that our ship was at least four times taller than the highest building. We realised this was why so many locals were politely trying to catch our eye. For them, a visit by Queen Mary 2 was Easter, Christmas and New Year rolled into one.
We were due to depart at six that evening. By seven, we were still waiting. Which passenger had managed to get lost? Wolf whistles from the lower deck announced the arrival of a youngster in singlet, running shorts and plimsolls. He was a deckhand who had jogged a little too far out into the desert. As he boarded, the entire ship erupted into applause. I was beginning to realise what a great community we were journeying with.